Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More Italian Films

Have been watching some Italian films beyond the usual Rossellini, Fellini and Antonioni triumvirate. Two really excellent ones I saw recently. Two films by Pasolini in the next post.

At first I was a little hesitant about watching this 1965 film Fists in the Pocket directed by Marco Bellocchio. Not another film about dysfunctional family and "the sick soul of the suburb," that Hollywood has turned into a cliche in the last decade or so, I thought. I was wrong though. It is far more shocking and perverse and the whole grotesquerie is mixed with a deep pathos and melancholy which takes it beyond the realm of polemic and wilful profanation of conservative values into that of poetry. (Pasolini called Bertolucci's debut film La Commare Secca "a cinema of poetry", while Bellocchio's film to him was "cinema of prose." I found them both very similar in the style though. Bertolucci's film is not very famous but is quite good too.)

The film follows the story of its protagonist Alessandro who in his delusions has decided that murder and collective suicide are the only ways to solve his family's problems. He harbours incestuous feelings for his sister and is resentful of his elder brother, who is the only normal person in the family, may be only because he has been able to conform and mingle in the outside society. (The film actually takes places in a house around snow-capped mountains. I didn't know Italy had such landscape, may it is somewhere along the Austrian border.) The film succeeds partly because of the extraordinary acting and screen presence of Lou Castel in the role of Alessandro. He is like the young Marlon Brando, who he even resembles in looks. He is aggressive and awkward, outwardly calm but only to reveal the intensity that is bottled up beneath, as if ready to explode any moment. (Also beautifully captured by the title of the film.) Like Brando his gestures are always spontaneous and very unpredictable. (If you had any doubts about the Brando connection, the film makes it totally clear. His sister keeps a picture of Brando affixed above her bed.)

Bellocchio sees the institution of the family, at least in its isolative, self-sufficient nature, as another of those fascist institutions which continued to exist even after the nominal demise of institutional fascism. In this the film resembles Bunuel who explored similar themes with a similar sensibility of wilful blasphemy. There is even an obvious visual quote from L'age d'Or in which Alessandro and his sister throw off all their household things belonging to their mother through the balcony. In the Bunuel film even the pope is defenestrated in the end. In the interview featured on the disc Bellocchio says that Bunuel saw the film but disliked it. Anyway I found it endlessly fascinating and extremely thought provoking. It is a masterful work, not really meant for casual viewing. More information on senses of cinema and the criterion site.

Ermanno Olmi's 1961 film Il Posto ("The Job") cut really close to be bone and had me a bit depressed for some time after I watched it. After going through a bunch of ridiculous tests and psychometric interviews a small town boy gets a job in the nearby city of Milan. At the job he secretly yearns for a pretty coworker but instead finds himself being systematically dehumanized by the big, inhuman corporate machinery. It is a very subtle film, reminiscent of Jacques Tati's Playtime both in its humour, visual style and comment about the essential alienation of human beings embodied in the modern architecture, everything shown through with careful scene compositions. It is also interesting to think of it in comparision with Antonioni's L'Eclisse which is also set in Milan and which deals with the same subject. Olmi eschews stylistic abstractions of Antonioni for a comparatively more documentary look.

The young boy in the film is extremely good. His scenes with the girl specially are wonderfully directed by Olmi. The shyness, lack of confidence, the silent attraction and equally silent heartbreak, all filmed in exquisitely understated manner and more powerful and devastating just for that. In the final scene he gets the place of a recently deceased accountant who it is revealed was actually working on a novel. Olmi means to show that with his observant, curious and introverted character the boy will have a hard time in his new life-role too and may be his fate will be the same as the accountant - an anonymous life with an unfinished novel in the end. As it turns out the character of boy is largely autobiographical so may be it is not entirely hopeless. Perhaps someday he will find some way to break loose and become a a writer and a artist too.

Olmi's skill and craft in filming the romantic scenes are also evident in a short film collected in the criterion disc called "The Crush." A teenager who looks like Woody Allen in his spectacles has this idea of using what he calls "the modern industrial ideas" to make the process of courtship more efficient and productive. Basically it just seemed to be a variant of the classic stable marriage problem (just thinking of it gives me nightmares). Anyway as it happens all logic, best laid plans and carefully designed algorithms come to nought when he lays his eyes on a pretty and cute french import named Jeannie and learns some valuable life lessons in the process. It was first shown on the Rai TV and may be because of that technically it is not that great. But still very interesting and heart-warming story.

An excellent essay on the film by Kent Jones here and another article has more information about Olmi and his other films.


KUBLA KHAN said...

I have not watched these movies but must say that I liked your post!

Alok said...

Thanks Kubla! I am right now reading Pasolini's poetry after your recommendation. I have read very little poetry but these poems are really great. Will try to write something soon.

Also picked up savage detectives. will start on it soon too.

KUBLA KHAN said...

Welcome to the world of the savage detectives! i am really delighted. and, yes, pasolini's poems......just their titles or names are enough!

Cheshire Cat said...

Stable marriage problem? There are certain things I want to forget about when I come to this blog :)

Alok said...

I try not to remember it too. I have no idea why it has stuck in my mind. May be because it has so many literary and ironic possibilities...